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Kao Corp., a major manufacturer of soap and cleansing products, has developed what it claims is the world’s first technology to make recyclable paper bottles that are as strong and versatile as plastic.

With the technology, bottles can be shaped into any form and recycled, a Kao spokesman said Wednesday. The spokesman added that they will be more environmentally friendly than plastic containers, which are difficult to recycle.

Even their caps are fashioned from used paper. To prevent softening through contact with water, surfaces are coated with a thin film of plastic that can be removed for recycling.

Kao is calling on industries to consider using the bottles for products such as milk and laundry detergent, the spokesman said.

If they go into mass-production, the costs of manufacturing the bottles can be reduced to levels comparable with the cost of making plastic bottles, the spokesman said.

Users will be able to dispose of the products as combustible garbage, the firm added.

Kao has already started test sales of bottles containing powder detergent in Tokyo and surrounding areas and hopes to start full-fledged sales as early as next year.

The company already has a patent for the technology in Japan and has applied for patents in several other countries. It is also considering issuing licenses for the technology, the spokesman said.

However, some observers said that demand for the paper bottles will not really take off until obstacles, such as securing proper collection routes, are overcome.

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